[WATCH] Prince Charles urges transition to a circular economy: 'I really do wonder if ocean’s fragility is yet truly grasped'

Prince Charles, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, High Representative Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner Karmenu Vella address the fourth edition of the Our Oceans Conference

The Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, High Representative Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner Karmenu Vella deliver the opening speeches
The Prince of Wales, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, High Representative Federica Mogherini and European Commissioner Karmenu Vella deliver the opening speeches

Coral reefs are perhaps the clearest litmus tests the world has to gauge progress relative to the impact of an unsustainable Blue Economy, the Prince of Wales said today.

Prince Charles, who was addressing the Our Oceans Conference in Malta, also urged stakeholders to transition to a circular economy that would allow plastic to be recovered, recycled and reused.

The Prince of Wales said that the problems facing the protection of the oceans were not only enormous, but “also systemic and interrelated” and their remedy can only be found by building a consensus across a wide range of stakeholders and communities.  He called for decisive action.

By way of example, he referred to a decision taken by Canada 25 years ago to protect the Northern cod stocks on the Grand Banks by closing a fishery that had all but collapsed due to mismanagement and overfishing.  

“This ended more than 400 years of fishing tradition and put over 30,000 people out of work over-night.  But, while this decision was unimaginably painful at the time, it has worked and the cod stocks are slowly increasing and this demonstrates that given a chance, and with some brave decisions, the Ocean can recover its health and by doing so generate employment and economic growth.  

“Surely we must take equally far-sighted steps to deal with plastic pollution or illegal and over exploitative fishing, or, indeed, ocean acidification, especially as our ability to fine-tune and accurately monitor implementation has been hugely enhanced by advances in satellite capability?”

The Prince of Wales wondered whether the Ocean’s fragility was truly grasped.

Eight million tonnes of plastic enter the sea every year.

“Plastic is indeed now on the menu!  Faced with such damaging effects on the ocean from plastic waste from the throw-away, convenience lifestyles of many around the world, it is, I believe, utterly crucial that we transition to a circular economy,” he said.  

A circular economy allows plastic (along with many other substances) to be recovered, recycled and reused instead of created, used and then thrown away.  

“On our increasingly crowded planet this economic approach has to be a critical part of establishing a more harmonious relationship between humankind and the ocean that sustains us all and also provides a mechanism for the benefits of a sustainable Blue Economy to be reaped.”

Prince Charles described coral reefs as incredible ecosystems that host about two-fifths of all marine species on just two per cent of the seabed, they protect many vulnerable coasts from storms, are nurseries for the young of commercially valuable fish and provide food and livelihoods for more than one billion people.

“Coral reefs’ economic value is, then, truly vast, at least while they are still intact.  The fact that we seem to have catastrophically underestimated their vulnerability to climate change, acidification and pollution and that significant portions of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia's Eastern coast have been severely degraded or lost over the last few years is both a tragedy and also, I would have thought, a very serious wake-up call.  

“Are we really going to allow ourselves the dismal comfort of accepting that in the long run we will only be left with a tiny fraction of them?”

The Prince called for a thorough, global look at perverse fisheries subsidies and their effects – particularly where they appear to contribute to overfishing, overcapacity and to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with the Prince of Wales
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with the Prince of Wales

Malta to recover 70% of plastic bottles it generates

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who delivered the welcoming speech at the Our Oceans Conference, talked of Malta’s efforts in doing its bid to save the oceans.

“Malta is embarking on a journey to actively mitigate the impact of marine litter on the ocean. By the end of 2019, Malta commits to recover 70% of the plastic bottles generated on our islands by introducing a beverage container refund scheme,” Muscat told his audience.

Muscat announced that Malta was committing to designate 30% of its Marine Protected Areas in 2018 to ensure protection of caves and reefs and to develop management plans for these protected areas by 2020.

Malta is set to set up the Small States Centre of Excellence that will provide practical support to the different government administrations to attain the Sustainable Development Goals under Agenda 2030. 

“Malta has been one of the principle leaders in ensuring that our ocean beds be declared the common heritage of mankind. Today I want to reconfirm the promise that Malta is also at the forefront in ensuring that our oceans remain the preserve of our shared future,” the Prime Minister told the international audience.

High Representative Federica Mogherini
High Representative Federica Mogherini

EU hosts Our Oceans Conference in Malta, pledges €560 million

The Our Oceans Conference is being hosted by the European Union this year in Malta, and aims to inspire joint solutions and gather ambitious commitments to conserve and sustainably use the oceans.

More than 40 ministers and other leaders from more than 100 countries across the globe and several top managers from international companies are expected to attend the meeting and to announce substantial and concrete pledges.

European Commission vice president Federica Mogherini and EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella are co-hosting the event, in the presence of First Vice-President Frans Timmermans and Commissioner Neven Mimica.

Significant resources will be committed to strengthen the fight against marine pollution and enlarge protected areas, reinforce security of the oceans, foster blue economy initiatives and sustainable fisheries and intensify the EU efforts against climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals under Agenda 2030.

In her opening speech, Mogherini said the Commission was committing €560 million to support efforts and actions that protect the oceans.

“In addition, the Commission is pledging 36 actions to defend the world’s seas from the threats of climate change, pollution – in particular plastic – and illegal fishing,” she said.

“The oceans belong to all humanity, to every human being. Each one of us has the responsibility to protect this treasure.”

Our Ocean 2017 has already attracted over 200 commitments and counting, including from more than 50 companies, ranging from the traditional fisheries sector to the Silicon Valley high-tech industries.

European Commissioner Karmenu Vella
European Commissioner Karmenu Vella

Karmenu Vella: establishing a Fishing Restricted Area (FRA) in the Adriatic Sea

European Commissioner and former Maltese minister Karmenu Vella also announced that Jabuka/Promo Pit area of the Adriatic Sea is going to get its first protected area.

A fishing restricted area (FRA) of at least 2,700 km² will be proposed for approval at the annual session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) in October.

The aim is to protect demersal stocks in the habitat recognised as essential nursery and spawning ground for a number of marine species outside territorial waters of Italy and Croatia.

“If approved, the protected area will be first of its kind the Adriatic Sea,” Vella said.